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Preparing for AB705: Integrating Universal Design for Learning in Transfer-Level Courses

Vanessa Dominguez, Director, Disabled Student Programs and Services

Orange Coast College, Coast Community College District 

Statement of the Problem. Students with disabilities are being forgotten in education, yet institutions of higher education have all the tools available to allow for students to be successful in their courses. As institutions of higher education begin to recognize the need to make education more responsive to the different ways students learn and as they acknowledge the key to helping all students achieve is identifying and removing barriers from teaching methods and curriculum materials (Rose & Meyer, 2002,) the phenomenon of “UDL” will likely play an important role in the educational advancement and academic success of students with disabilities. The instructional model Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was designed to assist faculty in teaching and managing a classroom environment to meet the needs of all students. When implemented, this framework could be an effective strategy to access whether course sequences and framework of classrooms are working for all students.

The instructional model Universal Design for Learning grew from the architectural concept of Universal Design (UD) in the 1990’s that created buildings and city planning in a way to meet the needs of all individuals. (For example, curb cuts meet the needs of an individual pushing a stroller, pulling luggage, riding a bike, a skateboard, or a wheelchair.) UDL is a philosophy for teaching and learning that could be modeled for creating the very embedded support required in math and English classes, per California Assembly Bill 705.

Introducing CA Assembly Bill 705. In 2018 California legislation directed all community college campuses to adopt Assembly Bill (AB) 705, to be fully implemented by Fall 2019. Per the California Community College Chancellor’s Office (CCCCO) AB 705 was written to ensure students are not placed into remedial courses that may delay or deter their educational progress unless evidence suggests they are highly unlikely to succeed in college-level courses (CCC, 2018). Currently, California Community Colleges use assessments to test for college readiness and to place non-traditional populations (including students with disabilities) into developmental courses (often referred to as remedial or basic skills classes) (Davison, May, & Rutan, 2018).  The purpose of these courses is to provide students the necessary skills required to be successful in transfer-level, “college-level” courses. With the implementation of AB 705, community college students who were originally signed up or ‘tested-into’ developmental courses, (often consisting of students with disabilities) will be allowed to self-place into transfer-level math and English courses, that might be at a higher placement than their readiness level. The California Community Colleges (CCC) assert that assessment instruments and placement policies have serious implications for equity, as students placed into remediation are much less likely to reach their educational goals (transfer to a university or vocational program/career) (CCC, 2018). The community colleges have been charged to guide all students toward making measurable progress (transferring within one year of enrolling in college-level courses,) to transfer to a university or completion of their educational goal.

Essentially, this charge translates to the removal of developmental courses in community colleges, originally designed to teach fundamental principles in math and English and to provide support to students with disabilities or other populations of students who lack foundational math, reading, writing, and spelling skills. The California Community Colleges (CCC) are the largest system of higher education in the United States, with 2.1 million students attending 115 colleges (CCC, 2018). Data from the California Community College Chancellors Office (CCCCO) indicates a total of 124,328 or 8% of students were registered with their Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) office in 2016-17. Historically, students with disabilities tend to have high enrollment in these developmental courses, in order to adequately prepare for transfer to a university. However, in the CCC’s Vision for Success Goal #5: “to reduce equity gaps among underrepresented students by 40% over 5 years and eliminate in 10 years” (CCC, 2017, p. 14,) the traditionally underserved groups the Vision of Success refers to are students of color, low-income students, and returning adults. There is no mention of students with disabilities, even though students affiliated with the DSPS office are frequently enrolled in these developmental courses. The 2017 CCC State of the System Report touches upon Remedial Education Reform and introduces AB 705 while reiterating, “the California Community Colleges and the State of California are working hand-in-hand to reform remedial education so students are no longer taking unnecessary remediation courses” (2017, p. 14). Yet, students with disabilities once again fail to be included in this report.

Also of interest is Chen’s (2016) statistical analysis report on remedial course-taking at U.S. public 2 and 4 year institutions. Chen indicates that remediation helps what he terms, “weakly academically prepared students” on several indicators but not moderately or strongly prepared students, compared with similar students who do not take remedial courses (Chen, 2016). Though Chen leads off his report by stating, “every year, millions of new college students arrive on campus lacking the necessary academic skills to perform at the college level,” and adds that “postsecondary institutions address this problem with extensive remedial programs designed to strengthen students’ basic skills” (Chen, 2016, p. iii,) throughout the 162 page report, Chen fails to disaggregate (or mention) students with disabilities in these statistics. The California Community College Chancellors Office (CCCCO) tracks annual data for Educational Assistance Classes (EAC); courses affiliated through Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) to support students with disabilities. The most recent CCCCO MIS Data Mart statistics reflect 1,321,879 students with disabilities were enrolled in Educational Assistance Courses in 2017-18 (CCCO, MIS, 2018). Additionally, data from Skomsvoid’s (2014) study indicates that in 2011-12, about one-third of all first and second-year bachelor’s degree students – 29 percent of those at public 4-year institutions and 41 percent of those at public 2-year institutions – reported having ever taken remedial courses” (Skomsvold, 2014).

However, according to data produced by the Chancellor’s office (CCC, 2018) the CCC asserts community colleges are placing too many students into remediation and that significantly more students would complete transfer requirements in math and English if enrolled directly into college-level English and math courses (CCC, 2018). As such, California community college mathematics and English departments are now tasked with developing additional curriculum that offers embedded supplemental support or co-requisite support to students who are enrolled in these transfer-level classes. With full implementation required by Fall of 2019, new or revised curriculum will need to be approved prior to Fall 2019 registration (Davison et al., 2018). Faculty in the math and English departments have been encouraged to examine whether their current course sequences makes sense for students. The instructional model Universal Design for Learning was designed to assist faculty in teaching and managing a classroom environment to meet the needs of all students. As math and English departments pilot this embedded, supplemental support into their Spring 2019 classes, therein lies an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) model in students’ academic performance and perceived course success in transfer-level math and English classes. When implemented into math and English classes, the UDL framework could be an effective strategy to access whether the new course sequences and framework of the classroom are working for all students.

AB 705 permits colleges to offer co-requisite courses for students as additional support, and may be able to use noncredit courses for these co-requisites, allowing students to access the additional support without accruing additional fees or units (Davison et al., 2018). The CCC encouraged faculty to examine all possibilities and be open to exploring different options to meet the needs of all students to ensure students are equipped to learn and succeed as they move to a transfer institution or workplace (Davison et al., 2018). As there is no single model that will work for all students or all colleges, faculty are encouraged to consider developing options and providing guidance to students on the benefits of each of the options (Davison et al., 2018). The following study examines Universal Design for Learning as a model for this type of supplemental, embedded instruction, to meet the current, mandated statute of AB 705. 

Significance of the Study. This study seeks to explore student perceptions and examine data from student’s actual performance in a UDL or non-UDL course, accessing for whether there is a correlation between UDL, measured student achievement, and perceived student success. What makes this particular study unique and important is the timely implementation of California Assembly Bill 705. Math and English departments are tasked to create immediate changes to the curriculum, but have been given freedom to make these supportive changes as best they see fit. The UDL model is an answer and a framework for this needed change, and, research has demonstrated UDL has beneficial effects for the learning of all students. As math and English instructors have the opportunity to select from a plethora of different instructional models and tools of varying degrees of technological sophistication, it is uncertain how faculty will decide to model their supplemental and co-requisite courses in preparation for AB 705.  This study offers the unique opportunity for faculty to engage in evidence-based practices, which will result in findings that reflect on UDL as a tangible model faculty can use to support students who were once considered “at risk” to be successful in these challenging, transfer level courses.

Students with disabilities often face additional challenges in the classroom setting, which is one reason why disability advocates and disability services offices support and encourage the promotion of the UDL model. As AB 705 will undoubtedly impact the population of students with disabilities in the CCC’s, the importance of conducting this particular study at this juncture (2019) and producing data that indicates whether a correlation exists between UDL courses, student performance, and perceived student course satisfaction/success is paramount to the field of disability services right now. My hope is that findings from this study can have future implications on current and future methods of implementing AB 705 while being mindful of students with disabilities, and that data from this study will impact future statewide recommendations for instructional support models.

Recruitment. Via this article, I am asking readers to share this study with their math and English CA community college faculty. For this study, I am seeking faculty scheduled to teach transfer level math or English courses in Fall 2019 to participate in a quantitative, comparative study of students enrolled in UDL and non-UDL classrooms. (Interested faculty outside this target group are encouraged to contact me as well, to express interest in participating in future UDL studies.) The target date for data collection is Fall 2019. If the subject matter of AB 705 and Universal Design for Learning is of interest to you, or may interest faculty you know, I request you please forward my information to contact me about participating in this study. If you are not a part of the California Community College system but are interested in future studies involving Universal Design for Learning, I encourage you to contact me as well, at Please contact me if you are interested in reading the full study proposal, or final results of study findings (completion scheduled for Summer 2020).



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experiences, and outcomes. National Center for Education Statistics, Statistical Analysis

Report – 405.

Davison, D., May, V., & Rutan, C. (2018). Local implementation of AB 705: What we know

and what remains to be answered. Academic Senate for California Community

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National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S.

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